It’s Valentine’s Day! I’m a bit excited not because I’m expecting a huge bouquet of flowers or to be whisked of to Paris but because me and the girls will be treating ourselves later – heart-shaped chocolates, cuddles and a Disney Princess film. Why wouldn’t I treat the people I love the most??
But this post isn’t about how I’m spending Valentines, but it is about hearts. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with a heart condition called Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT); a posh way of saying rapid heart rate, and it changed my way of thinking.
It was a total fluke that I was diagnosed, as it is a nightmare apparently to diagnose SVT. I didn’t feel it at the time, but I was apparently lucky that it played out the way it did. Although it terrified me, my mum and my kids at the time.
On the day I was diagnosed, I woke up and instantly felt off; I knew I didn’t feel right. My heart was racing and I felt dizzy, struggled to breathe and had a crushing chest pain in the middle of my chest. I live alone with my daughters but at that point, I lived very near to my mum. I called an ambulance first, then her as I was panicking that I would faint and leave the children unsupervised. I was convinced it was a panic attack and that it would blow over.
The feeling happened before, I suffer with anxiety so it wasn’t a huge leap to assume it was a panic attack. Frightening and annoying but not life-threatening.
And then the ambulance arrived, followed by my mum. The look on the paramedics’ faces when they arrived made me realise that it was probably not a panic attack. They duly took all of my observations and told me that my heart rate was over 250 beats per minute. That meant nothing to me at the time, I now know that the normal resting rate is between 60-100 beats per minute, so I was well over. This was a concern.
They asked me how long I’d felt like this as my heart probably wasn’t capable of beating at such a high rate for too long. As I’d left it over half an hour before calling the ambulance and they took a while to arrive, my heart had been overworking for nearly an hour. As soon as I’d said that, they took me straight to hospital.
Within an hour my heart rate had been returned to normal. Because it wouldn’t decrease by itself, or by using techniques such as the Valsalva manoeuvre, I had to have my heart stopped and restarted by having a drug called adenosine administered intravenously.
That was such a weird feeling. It felt like a wave of doom was spreading over me. That’s the only way to describe it. It was frightening as I felt the drug work but as soon as I registered it working, my heart started again. It was a split second event. I can’t explain it other than to say, I don’t want to have it again.
The cardiologist explained to me that I had Supraventricular tachycardia, which is an abnormality with the wiring in the heart. SVT is an arrhythmia otherwise known as an irregular beat. It’s not usually fatal although I was warned not to leave it so long before seeking medical help as it is not safe to. I was told in simple terms had I left it much longer that I would’ve died. That was a sobering thought.
I was born with my condition and the doctor pointed out that for me to get as old as I did without having a serious episode was quite something, as it usually presents itself during puberty. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that I have had episodes before, particularly both times that I was in labour when my heart rated was higher than that of my daughters. Both times, I kept setting the heart rate monitor off.
I take comfort from the fact that I managed so long without being aware of the condition, as it can at times dominate my thoughts. I am constantly aware of my heart rate and notice every little change, most of which are normal but make me slightly anxious. I have to take daily medication and a side effect is exhaustion. To be honest, it doesn’t really stop the palpitations and flutters, I get them almost daily, but I don’t want to up the dosage. I can’t possibly feel any more exhausted.
The cardiologist has recommended that I have an ablation, a type of surgery to cauterise the faulty ‘wiring’. Personally, I’m not so sure that I want it done. I can manage my SVT reasonably well and I’m getting more aware of the triggers, which for me are caffeine, exhaustion, dehydration and cold, and avoid them as much as possible. I’ve learnt techniques which can put my heart rate back to normal and if they don’t work, I’m at peace with the fact a trip to A&E for adenosine may be needed.
I’m doing ok without the need for surgery, but there may come a time when my thoughts change. I have to go for quarterly checks ups and have had more ECGs than I can count.
When I was first diagnosed, I was too scared to sleep at night incase I woke up and it started again. I was too scared to exercise
alone. I was too scared to do lots of things. Now, I’m used to it. I remember my daily medication, I avoid my triggers, and apart from missing Diet Coke and Lucozade, living with SVT hasn’t changed my life too much. Although I am a lot more mindful of my health and try not to overdo it.
One thing that has changed, I no longer get as anxious all of the time. I still suffer with anxiety and to outsiders it must seem like I’m always anxious but I’m not. It is significantly reduced. It all seems a bit pointless compared to the prospect of leaving my children without a mother.
Another thing that has changed is my determination to succeed. Being reminded that life isn’t forever and how fragile it has prompted me to make sure I follow as many of my dreams as possible. Simply because, who knows what will happen tomorrow? I’d rather die trying than sitting still and just existing.